Gig Review: Planetarium by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly

Part greatest musical collaboration of recent times and part high school science lesson, last night’s performance of Planetarium at the Sydney Opera House was undeniably epic.

Sydney Vivid Festival brought together Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner (The National) and Nico Muhly to present a unique musical event themed around our Solar System. Performing to a packed out Concert Hall, the trio told the stories of each planet, the sun and the moon. An expert musical composition teamed with a stunning visual display expressed the voice of the individual planets as imagined by this holy trinity of modern music.

The ensemble performing ‘Jupiter’ at the Sydney Opera house

Before each song Sufjan Stevens introduced the planet describing its scientific composition and cultural significance. A giant orb hung above the musicians and interpretive visuals of the surface of each planet were projected onto it. It was a remarkably beautiful display and each of the planets songs had a unique and lasting feel. Jupiter seemed haunted, empty and lonely. This compared starkly to the chaos and electric intensity of Mars. Musically, my only possible criticism would be Stevens’ generous use of the vocoder. The spaceman voice, however pertinent, became a little tedious after a while.

Jupiter, live at the Sydney Opera House for Vivid Live

Perhaps controversially, Pluto was included in their musical tour of the Solar System despite its recent degradation to ‘not planet’. With an underdog fondness, Stevens introduced Pluto as “the planet that could”. On-stage banter between the trio was fun, mostly relevant to the theme and (thankfully) wasn’t awkward like it is at some gigs. I particularly enjoyed the discussion about the moon. Stevens suggested it was a shame our moon had no name, to which Nico Muhly retorted “It’s actually called Janet” and played the opener of a Janet Jackson song.

However, despite all the wonder and on-stage antics, sitting in a comfortable chair listening to soothing sounds post 11pm on a Tuesday night is tempting fate. I am ashamed to say I began to nod off towards the end. That was until one of the spotlights seemed to be aimed directly into my retinas and awakened my sleep demon. He was angry. Was this punishment? Could they see my drooping eyelids? Was my chair triggered to sense slouching? As a result of this ‘slight decrease in concentration’ I can’t quite review Earth or Mercury as they were the last two songs. But this more conscientious reviewer reckons they were pretty good!

Mercury, Live in Eindhoven, Muziekgebouw.

Despite my nanna slip-up I’d recommend seeing these guys if you get the chance. (What I saw of) the show was a brilliant demonstration of three creative geniuses at work. Maybe prepare yourself with a pre-show nap or come armed with some kind of delicious caffeinated beverage. I’m not sure where they’ll be taking this show next, or what form it will take in the future, but this won’t be the last we hear of this amazing collaboration.

Have you ever fallen asleep somewhere inappropriate? Or during something you were really enjoying despite yourself?

1 thought on “Gig Review: Planetarium by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly

  1. Pingback: Video: Sufjan Stevens covers “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” « Consequence of Sound

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